Its beginning to feel a lot like springtime, and New Yorkers are out and about! And this week we have a new film about the Queen of Soul and a Fosse muse on Broadway. America’s mother of modern dance turns 93 in Chelsea and Arthur Mitchell’s dream turns 50. Here are a few of the many events happening in the city that never sleeps, guaranteed to keep you Out and About. Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
The Batsheva Dance Company presented the New York premiere of Venezuela by house choreographer Ohad Naharin on March 27 through March 30 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gillman Opera House. The program notes described the work as, “exploring the dialogue and conflict between movement and the content it represents”. As the work began the most compelling observation became that Venezuela is an experiment in perception.
The curtain rose without the usual dramatic fanfare of dimming the lights to darkness. This action caught the audience off guard silencing them with a heightened sense of curiosity. Eight dancers were standing downstage center and began a slow migration to center stage as the house lights slowly dimmed. The soft and soothing music for the entire first act of Maxim Waratt soundtrack consisted of a series Gregorian chants; and the combination of music and the upstage movement progression created an aura of mystery.
Naharin immediately establishes the work’s most notable elements; that of slow, sustained and repetitive movement phrases. Employing these choreographic devises allows the audience to absorb the movement and intent, and to remember and eventually recall the stunning visual imagery. A factor that will become important for interpreting the second act of Venezuela.
The upstage progression is interrupted by a solo female dancer extending an arm. The gesture, with an upwardly extended arm, flexed wrist and stylized fingers, conjured Latin social dancing. A male dance extends his arm in a lower second position as if in response to the initial gesture. Soon all the dancers are engaged in a Naharin style Latin ballroom dance. The choreography seemed to work in an odd sort of tandem with the music, but it clearly established a dynamic counterpoint.
Good choreography goes beyond the steps and music, it establishes its own timing to create a visual music. Throughout the first act Naharin capitalized on this fact delivering cohesive sections of both visual and audio contrast. This was most evident in the section where the dancers rapped the lyrics from Dead Wrong, a rap song by Biggie Smalls aka the Notorious B.I.G. featuring additional rap lyrics from Eminem. Set against the Gregorian chant the effect was almost as shocking as finding a lifted toilet bowl seat in a nunnery.
As the lights rose again on the second act the dancers again moved to center stage restarting the work from the beginning. The chant had been replaced by an eclectic score that kept the “Latin section” exciting- just more traditional. The same happened with the Biggie Small section with the rap set back to the original Al Green baseline sample; just as edgy but more contextually conventional.
Naharin masterfully variated and developed themes with nuanced discipline; which allowed changes in the environment (music, lighting, props and cast) to alter the visual perception of the choreography. In one such moment the dancers entered with rectangular shaped fabric. In the first section oatmeal colored rectangles slapped the floor as a solo dancer, crawled prostrate on the floor, seemingly tried to avoid the blows. The imagery creating a sense of penance. In the second rendition the rectangles were painted to represent national flags including the Palestinian, Brazilian and the Black Power (USA) flag. This time the “fabric flogging” took on social and politic overtones.
In another section five men walked on all fours with a woman straddling their backs. The long-sustained section created a mood of female dominance. In contrast, the imagery in the second act rendering set to Middle eastern inspired music transformed the section into a caravan.
The use of repetitive and sustained movement allowed the audience to retain the shapes and phrases. This made the second rendition an experiment in visual perception, instead of just a movement addendum. The strong musicality, which was so independent and prominent in the first act, was perfectly married to the music the proceeding act; leading us to surmise that Naharin probably choreographed the second rendering first.
A yell from company member Bobby Jene Smith signals the end of both acts. Maybe it was a metaphor, not signaling the end but announcing a new beginning. Ohad Naharin’s Venezuela makes a powerful artistic statement allowing us to see his world from two points of view. Both valid and both compelling.
By Walter Rutledge
The Martha Graham Dance Company will begin their New York City season April 2 through April 14 at the Joyce Theater. Continue reading
It’s the first weekend of spring and time its time to get out and about! We have Warhol in Meatpacking and Jean- Michel Basquiat in the East Village. Dance from Williamsburg in Brooklyn to Westchester Ave. in Da Bronx. And The Grateful Dead share with kids while the Temptations are honored on Broadway. Here are a few of the many events happening in the city that never sleeps, guaranteed to keep you Out and About. Continue reading
The queens parody the Trump administration with a Grease-inspired rusical. Continue reading
Spring has finally arrived! Soon the flowers will be in bloom and love will be in the air. And if you love the arts you will find dance from Da Bronx to the Chelsea, music in Brooklyn and at Radio City Music Hall, karaoke night in Garden City and explore Asian culture and art throughout the city. Here are a few of the many events happening in the city that never sleeps, guaranteed to keep you Out and About. Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
Ailey II opened their 2019 New York City season on Wednesday, March 13th at NYU Skirball, the five-day seven performance season runs through Sunday, March 17. More than a “farm team” for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater this 12-member ensemble has built a reputation as a solid repertory company; featuring stellar young artists performing dynamic, and sometimes edgy choreography. This year is no exception Program A (entitled All New) presented three world premieres by Ailey alumnus Uri Sands, Bradley Shelver, and Troy Powell; and one company premiere by Robert Battle. The evening of abstract narrative works could best be described as visually atmospheric.
Tracks by Uri Sands began with the full ensemble slowly proceeding downstage right (with their back facing the audience) in a single shaft of diagonal light. Ample smoke added the required visual drama to Burke Brown’s light design, which provided a stark canvas for the minimalist prelude. Set to the prison work song Let Your Hammer Ring the section’s steady progression was occasionally interrupted by a dancer simply standing upright.
In sharp contrast, this was followed by four sections set to the music of the R&B group the O’Jays. The work lost the minimalist approach establishing a lush contemporary look. The centerpiece of the work was the duet set to Desire Me. Antuan Byers and Marcus Williams navigated the same-sex duet with quiet passion; the sculptural elements of the work evoked a sensory reaction void of saccharine melodrama. The work ended with Stairway To Heaven throughout the section Kyle H. Martin is enveloped into a moving cloud like mass; that gently jettisoned back into the space, only to be enveloped again. The repetitive phrase provided the work with a holistic conclusion.
Choreographers are teachers of movement. They have the ability to imbue dancers with qualities beyond technique. Ebb And Flow by Ailey II Artistic Director Troy Powell is just such a work.
The duet, set to the popular Adagio for Strings, Op 11 by Samuel Barber, gave Powell a monumental task- to breathe new life into this music chestnut. Corrin Rachelle Mitchell was bathed in an amber and blue glow held aloft by Leonardo Brito. Sequestered in a rectangular, that ran through the center of the stage, the duet displayed a musicality that did not rely exclusively on the phrasing; instead it became its own moving visual voice. Powell was able to share the power and majesty of the music through his choreography; while giving the dancers an opportunity to grow.
Flock, a septet by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Robert Battle, proved to be the most diverse work on the program. Battle’s vocabulary defied convention by avoiding classroom/technique- based movement. This allowed the choreography to establish its own distant voice; unencumbered by conventional shapes and steps such as arabesque, attitude turns and posse’ pirouettes.
The abstract dance narrative takes us on a tale of trust betrayed a kind of abstract Emperor Jones or A Face In The Crowd. Kyle H. Martin leads his flock until his own “feet of clay” are exposed. Originally choreographed in 2004 the present social and political climate gives this allegory renewed relevance.
The evening closed with the full ensemble work Where There Are Tongues by South African born dancer, teacher, author and choreographer Bradley Shelver. The amalgam of movement styles and cultural references give the work a textually rich element. References included indigenous movement from Africa and Europe; which created a universal and inclusive quality. The rhythmically complex music by french a cappella group Lo Còr De La Plana assisted in the universality by providing a pulsing audio score that transcended any one culture.
Ailey II continues to offer artists (dancers, choreographers light and costume designers) opportunities to develop their craft. It also continues to honor founder Alvin Ailey and his love for dance as a gift to all people. The 2019 New York City Ailey II season exemplifies this vision; one of the reasons this company has become a formidable force in its own right.
Well March has come in like a lion. Snow and frigid temperatures are in the immediate forecast, but that has never stopped New Yorkers from having a great time. This week we are dancing north, south, east and Westside. Art from Museum Mile to Flatbush Avenue; and cutting edge theatre in Broadway to the Bronx. Here are a few of the many events happening in the city that never sleeps, guaranteed to keep you Out and About. Continue reading
By Walter Rutledge
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s revival of Talley Beatty’s Stack Up became the undisputed hit of the 2018 New York City season. This posed the question, “What makes a dance a masterwork?” In other words, why does Stack Up still stack up?
Part of the answer is the most unforgiving four-letter word in the English vocabulary TIME. Today in our fast-paced world with its changing social attitudes, need for immediate gratification and public acceptance, has virtually eliminated the critical maturation period. This is the time it takes the public (and critics) to develop the aesthetic acumen to understand and acknowledge that they are in the midst of something new, different and profoundly groundbreaking.
Created for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1983 Stack Up become an immediate hit. Jennifer Dunning reviewed Stack Up during the 1983 Ailey 25 season, “Mr. Beatty’s tale of lost innocence is as fresh as if it were being told for the first time.” Now 36 years later Dunning’s comments still ring true; Stack Up had retained a freshness and renewed relevance.
Another element of the ballets’ sustained appeal is Beatty’s innate skill as a movement architect and storyteller. A master craftsmen, Stack Up is visually stunning from every seat in the New York City Center’s proscenium house. Even in the fourth tier the patterns move with the precision of a swiss watch.
The textured construction of the choreography included multiple layered movement sequences happening simultaneously. This created primary action, and both secondary and background movement similar to the configurations used in story ballet classics. Despite Beatty’s repute the success of Stack Up sparked an unexpected comeback.
At age 64 Beatty had achieved choreographic acclaim over two decades earlier with his masterwork The Road Of The Phoebe Snow (1959). Despite his 1977 Tony nomination for Arms Too Short To Box With God, and several ballets in the Ailey repertoire, by the early 80’s Beatty had become a dance dinosaur. Artists such as Elisa Monte (Treading 1981, Pigs and Fishes 1982), Bill T. Jones (Fever Swamp 1983) and Ulysses Dove (Night Shade 1982) had captured the public’s curiosity, forging new ground; while relegating Beatty to the past. The success of Stack Up revived Beatty’s career with a Frank Lloyd Wright vengeance.
Beatty returned to the loss of innocence theme that propelled The Road Of The Phoebe Snow. Set with a soulful Westside Story flavor “Phoebe” centered around a young men and women who encounter gang violence. In Stack Up the male and female leads are confronted by a drug dealer while navigating the New York City underground club scene. Beatty did not relive his “Phoebe” glory, to the contrary, he did his research to create a new work for a new generation and a new audience.
Better Days, a predominantly Black and Latino gay night spot, renowned for great music, dancing, drinking and plenty of shade. It’s tucked away on 49th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue, an area notorious for strip clubs, prostitution and rat-infested tenements. The diminutive, but fearless sexagenarian (Beatty) became a fixture/voyeur at the club.
Beatty soaked up the music, dancing and atmosphere of the club and neighborhood. Social dances such as the Hustle and emerging hip-hop styles were deconstructed and eventually incorporated into his choreography. In retrospect this was the beginning of the end of an era. The club scene with its rampant drugs use, transient sex and outlandish behavior would eventually be eclipsed by the crack cocaine explosion and the AIDS pandemic.
As the curtain rose on the current production, the Romare Bearden backdrop based on his watercolor Under The Bridge brought us into Beatty’s gritty urban environment. The Bearden backdrop (part a series featured in the 1980 John Cassavetes film Gloria) seemed a little faded and in need of sprucing up. Fortunately, this was the only element of this production in need of a facelift.
From the moment the curtain rises we are immediately pulled into the hustle and flow of the vibrant NYC night culture. Dancers spilled onto the stage introducing themselves; and immediately establishing their characters through both movement and attitude. All with the kind of aplomb best described as “urban cool”.
Yannick Labrun and Constance Stamatiou, the young couple emerged from the chaotic, but deliberate movement mayhem. Originally performed by a hunky Keith McDaniel the tall, lean Labrun made the role his own. With a “wide-eyed” sense of innocence and exuberance abounding, this danseur noble took us on a journey (no… his journey) of seduction and betrayal.
Stamatiou’s impassioned interpretation is much less an ingenue, and more protector and futile voice of reason. Michael Jackson Jr. brought a special energy to the role of the drug dealer. His energetic, yet multi-faceted portrayal revived images of the role’s originator Gary DeLoatch. Ranging from an almost manic “life of the party” ringmaster to an alone and poignant addict, Jackson Jr.’s antagonist evoked both disdain and pathos.
The second section opened with Rockin It, old school hip-hop from the Fearless Four. The dancer’s heads popped through the black backdrop playfully bopped side to side. Just one of the many ingenious theatrical devices that kept the audience “on their toes”.
With an amalgam of movement styles including; Dunham, Graham, Ballet, Jazz and current street/vernacular dances, the Louisiana native created an exciting dance “Gumbo”. The abstract narrative ebbed and flowed like a theatrical rollercoaster of falling and rise action. This was balanced by Beatty’s strong dance theatre prowess; which helped him develop complete and believable characters, and clear and concise scenarios. Standout Jermaine Terry’s subtle and focused portrayal of a little too high street character was spot on! His endearing sense of humor complimented without upstaging.
The final scene takes us to the club complete with a disco mainstay mirror ball. Beatty masterfully builds the work to a frenzied crescendo, ending with an arresting final tableau- blackout! Encompassing the four elements of good storytelling; intrigue, seduction, betrayal and mysticism, Stack Up remains a powerful social commentary, made more prevalent due to the present Opioid crisis.
February is almost over!!! That means spring is less than four weeks away but, New York City isn’t waiting for springtime to create fun time. This week we have dance from Lincoln Center to DUMBO. Art from Museum Mile to the East Village; and cutting edge theatre in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Here are a few of the many events happening in the city that never sleeps, guaranteed to keep you Out and About. Continue reading